Lincoln Park neighborhood members are finally getting what they've wanted ... well, sort of.
At a community meeting last week, city of Chattanooga Chief Innovation Officer Jeff Cannon presented preliminary plans for the expansion of Central Avenue through the neighborhood as well as the rebuilding of the park with which the neighborhood shares its name. A new park has been on residents' wish list for some time. But some members showed concern that the park as currently planned - a fraction of its original size - won't provide the community with what it needs.
Vannice Hughley, president of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, said she'll wait and see before deciding if she's happy about the plans.
"So far, so good, but there's still a lot to talk about," she said, referencing the long-term nature of the plans. "We want to know if our park, if Lincoln Park, is going to get the same attention as others in the city. We want and need the programming for our kids."
As of now the city can't speak to what the park will entail. First, the land swap deal with Erlanger has to be finalized. The city and Tennessee Department of Transportation are still finalizing plans for the two-lane Central Avenue expansion that will separate Erlanger from the Lincoln Park neighborhood and connect Central Avenue to Amnicola Highway. And then, the Trust for Public Land will actually handle the building of the park.
"It will take a budget cycle or two for this to be completed. It's going to take time and some capital investments," Cannon told the audience. "But TPL is going to work with you and the neighborhood on it."
Residents reminisced about swimming in the old pool, now located on Erlanger's property and inaccessible to the community, seeing buses bring children to the fair and even playing in the park after church on Sundays. They want it all back again, Hughley said.
"There's a marker there that was put there in 1918 dedicating the park to the African-American community," said Hughley. "We're just going to have to have discussions with them about it."
Some residents voiced their desire to have control of the old swimming pool again, forcing Central Avenue to route around it and for Erlanger to give up another small parcel of land.
"Y'all may feel differently, but I feel like it is incredible that Mayor Andy Berke got them [Erlanger] to do this," Cannon said. "I just do not think it is possible to get anything else."
Mary Graham, who for 27 years has lived on the edge of where the Central Avenue expansion will travel, said she just hopes the city keeps good on its commitment.
"I'd just love to see the children playing and happy in the park again," she said. "These kids need something like this in our neighborhood, and it's good for them."
Once TPL completes work on the park, the city will take over ownership. Lincoln Park residents like Hughley hope that means there will be recreational programs, like those found at other city parks, brought to Lincoln Park.
"It's a long way away, and it's been a long time coming," she said. "They've done what we asked them to do, but we want to know more about this."
Until the actual park is rebuilt, Cannon encouraged community members to use the park if they wish.